New safety app fails to stand up to expectations

Photo by Tyler Meuter

Pulling all-nighters is a hallmark of Tech culture, whether the late nights turned into mornings are frequent or rare occurrences. While the Midnight Rambler is a helpful transportation service, some nights require staying out past 3am or going past the expanse of the Rambler route.

For these situations, Stingerette is the only safe option, but it is not a viable one. With inconsistent and often ridiculously long wait times, many students choose to walk instead. As one of those students who becomes frustrated that waiting for a Stingerette would take over three times as long as using my own feet to get home, I was excited to hear that Tech was adopting a new safety app. While I had tried RaveGuardian last year, I was disappointed with its services and ended up uninstalling it, opting instead to simply text my roommate that I was walking home.

Unfortunately, the LiveSafe app is another episode in the series of nighttime safety disappointments. LiveSafe did not improve much on RaveGuardian. Instead of setting a timer for one’s walk, the user can invite friends to track their walk. However, the friend must install the LiveSafe app and set up an account to watch over the walker. The LiveSafe app also added information, such as emergency procedures, a campus map, and contact information for various resources, but these changes would not be helpful in a typical nighttime emergency situation.

Other safety apps, such as Companion, offer more features and better ease of use. To watch a friend’s walk with Companion, one simply follows a link and does not have to waste any time downloading the app and setting up an account.

Unlike LiveSafe, Companion asks you to enter a destination and mode of transportation. Additionally, the app senses “Smart Triggers”, such as headphones being yanked out, the phone being dropped, or the user starting to run, and then gives them fifteen seconds to verify his or her safety before alerting the Companions. Another unique feature of the app is the “I Feel Nervous” button, which fills the gap between doing nothing when one feels uncomfortable and calling the police. If Tech had chosen to use Companion as its campus safety app, the data from the “I Feel Nervous” reports could have informed where to send more patrols and improve lighting.

While Jen and Jeff’s campaign promised Stingerette integration in the new safety app, LiveSafe, the Stingerette option within the app simply redirects to the preexisting Stingerette website. Besides increasing the number of drivers, the biggest way Stingerette could improve is providing estimated times of arrival when requesting a ride. The nearly perpetual warning that “Stingerette is currently experiencing an unusually high number of trip requests” is not specific enough, and the map with the van’s location does not appear until a driver has been assigned, a process that often takes ten minutes or more.

If Stingerette cannot be made more efficient and user-friendly, then a complete overhaul of the nighttime transportation services may be necessary. With Tech’s highly rated computer science and industrial engineering programs, students could work to improve or replace the safety app and the Stingerette program.

In fact, five University of Michigan students created the Companion app. Other creative solutions to supplement existing options could be explored. At the University of Southern California, if the wait time for their nighttime transportation is more than 15 minutes long, then students may request an Uber ride for free.

Whether the improvements are internal or outsourced, Tech needs to address the problem of inadequate nighttime transportation with more than
a lackluster app.